‘Communities Resist’ is Defending Tenants Against Housing Discrimination and Harassment

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Natalie Colarossi


Communities Resist, a nonprofit legal services organization serving Bushwick and other neighborhoods in North Brooklyn, has been working tirelessly to defend tenants at no cost from housing discrimination and harassment from their landlords. 

The nonprofit is led by attorney and Executive Director, Lina Lee, and was developed over a year ago by a diverse team of community lawyers, organizers, advocates, and paralegals with ties to the neighborhoods they serve.

“Our whole model of work is representing and defending tenants from harassment and discrimination by their landlords through an organizing and community lawyering model,” said Shekar Krishnan, Chief Program Officer, lawyer, and co-founder of the nonprofit. 

Using a system that combines legal strategy with group organization, Communities Resist has been actively protecting the people of North Brooklyn from predatory landlords that seek to displace, abuse, and take advantage of their tenants. 

The nonprofit was officially developed last June as a subset of community activism that had been going on in North Brooklyn for over 50 years. But the founders of Communities Resist realized that a team of people of color from the area would be crucial to continue the fight against housing injustice. 

“[We founded Communities Resist] from the perspective that those of us doing the work look like and come from the communities that we serve,” Krishnan said. 

“We believe strongly that housing justice is an issue of racial justice, and that housing justice must necessarily advance racial, gender, and economic justice,” he continued. 

To date, it is only one of very few legal services in New York City with a woman of color in an Executive Director role, Krishnan told Bushwick Daily. 

Millie Sandoval, the Director of Organizing and fellow co-founder of the nonprofit, has been living in Bushwick for more than five decades, and has experienced the trials of gentrification and tenant harassment first-hand. 

“Not only can I sympathize, but I can empathize with our clients as a person of color, and a woman who grew up in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood,” she said. 

“Now it’s so gentrified that we have pockets of folks hiding because they’re afraid to be displaced by what’s coming.” 

In order to help tenants – many of whom are disadvantaged people of color or immigrants with language barriers – Sandoval will go door to door in buildings that have been brought to her attention with housing violations in order to form a united group, called a tenant association. 

Tenant Association formed at 1362 Decatur Street. Image provided by Communities Resist. 

During this stage of her work, Sandoval will meet with tenants regularly to collect information on the level of harassment or discrimination being committed. Once the tenant association is fully formed, lawyers will join the mix and begin strategizing the best plan of legal action. 

“We really believe that tenants are most protected when they’re fighting together to group against these forces of harassment by their landlords, or displacement because of gentrification,” said Krishnan. 

In early August, State Senator Julia Salazar joined forces with Communities Resist to organize with tenants facing harassment outside of 181 Palmetto.

In just one year of work, Communities Resist estimates it has served over 100 buildings and 1000 individual tenants in Bushwick, East New York, Crown Heights, Cypress Hills, and additional North Brooklyn neighborhoods. 

The nonprofit has successfully stripped abusive landlords of their building rights, gone on rent strike, prevented the tear down of valuable community services, and halted rezoning laws that would harmfully affect neighborhoods. 

Now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Communities Resist has expanded their services to work around the clock in order to help those who face food insecurity, eviction, and joblessness.

“The work has quadrupled through the pandemic,” said Sandoval. “Housing is just one part of a person’s life. I can’t just say ‘OK the day is over’ and hang up my hat. My hat is constantly on.”

To help tenants understand current housing laws during the pandemic, the nonprofit has been hosting virtual workshops every two weeks where they answer questions and provide housing guidance. 

“Housing is one of the most urgent crises in our city right now, and we’re seeing all poor communities of color being rezoned by the city, or by private developers that are forcing tenants out from their homes and neighborhoods that have been home to them for so long,” said Krishnan. 

“These crises that have always existed are all going to get even worse because of how much COVID-19 has done to devastate communities of color.”

Communities Resist is a non-profit organization serving North Brooklyn at no cost to tenants. If you or someone you know needs the services of this organization for protection from housing discrimintation or harassment, you can find their contact info here. 

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